I fear that you haven’t been keeping up with the latest developments in the exciting world of rap and hip-hop music. Luckily for you, I have.
The first big headline to drop, as we say in the hip-hop world, was Dr. Dre’s $70 million gift to the University of Southern California. Dre (pre-rap name — Andre Young) was an original member of the group N.W.A., whose full name we cannot share with you because of archaic conceptions of good taste. Perhaps you remember N.W.A.’s first album, “Straight Outta Compton,” with its chart-topping hit “[Expletive] tha Police.”
That was then and this is now. Dre and music producer Jimmy Iovine are jointly funding a new “academy for arts, technology, and the business of innovation” at the University of Southern California, cruelly mocked in a recent episode of “30 Rock” as “that last bastion of the incompetent rich.” At the time of the announcement, USC President Max Nikias said, “Our goal is to ensure that the academy is the most collaborative educational program in the world.”
The academy plans to supplement its faculty with “real world experts,” whom we hope will include Dre’s occasional collaborator Jay-Z (pre-rap name — Shawn Carter). Perhaps you recall the Dre-Z joint release (with Rick Ross) “3 Kings,” with its memorable lyrics:
I love this [expletive] like I love my own daughter
Let’s spray these [expletive] baby, just like daddy taught ya.
The invaluable hip-hop translation service rapgenius.com explains that Z “is already teaching his daughter how to dominate the rap game, killing the competition by ‘spraying’ them with ‘bullets,’ the bullets being nothing but hot music.”
Earlier this summer, National Public Radio reported that Z has “remained at the center of the conversation with his #newrules approach to marketing his latest studio album ‘Magna Carta Holy Grail.’ ” That approach consists mainly of granting interviews to lapdog journalists (“Describe your experience when you suddenly realized that you had a purpose greater than your own” — the BBC’s Zane Lowe) and bragging about his wealth, e.g., “Ex D-boy [drug dealer] I used to park my Beamer/Now look at me I can park in my own arena” — a reference to his since-sold ownership stake in the Brooklyn Nets.
During his busy summer, Mr. Z found time to compare himself to Pablo Picasso (“I’m the modern day Pablo Picasso baby”) in video recorded at New York’s Pace Gallery last month, “Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film.”
I know what you are thinking: That’s all very exciting, but what’s going on around here? Plenty! Just last month Harvard University’s prestigious Hip-Hop Archive announced the Nasir Jones (rap name — Nas) Hip-Hop Fellowship, to “provide selected scholars and artists with an opportunity to show that ‘education is real power,’ ” according to a press release.
Harvard explains that the “poet-rhymester” Nas “has helped usher in an original form of hip-hop debate and analysis that reflects on and represents urban youth angst and conflict as well as intelligence, confidence, and ambition.”
I wish they had included a few details of Nas’s famous “beef” with Jay-Z, an engaging multi-year feud, that, unlike other disagreements in the dawg-eat-dawg world of hip-hop, did not end in a hail of gunfire. Indeed, after some cursory mutual defamation, Nas and Z pooled their creative talents on famous collaborations, like “Black Republican”:
I feel like a Black Republican, money I got comin’ in . . .
Can’t clean up my act for good, too much thug in ‘em
Probably end up back in the hood, I’m like [expletive] it then.
Harvard’s most recent hip-hop fellow of note was producer 9th Wonder (a.k.a. Patrick Douthit) who came on campus both to research and to teach. According to the website for “Harvard Fellow,” a movie being made about 9th’s Cambridge sojourn, “9th will track down all the original records that were sampled to create the ten tracks of Nas’s ‘Illmatic.’ Those records will then be catalogued and archived in the permanent collection at Harvard.”
Lucky Harvard! They’ve got the corrected proofs for James Boswell’s “Life of Johnson” and the source materials for Nas’s immortal track, “Life’s a [expletive].” (“Life’s a [expletive] and then you die/That’s why we get high”). That’s why they call it the World’s Greatest University!Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.